Understanding the difference between STDs and STIs

All Woman

FOR years we have heard the terms sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), but you may not know that there is a difference.

Obstetrician-gynaecologist Dr Ryan Halsall said STDs and STIs represent the same infections; however, at different stages.“The term sexually transmitted infections has recently taken over from sexually transmitted diseases, which had taken over from venereal disease in the 1990s,” he explained.

He said gonorrhoea, chlamydia, syphilis HIV, HPV, etcetera, are all STIs, and also all STDs.

“The term STI is used broadly for any sexually transmitted germ that 'lives' in a person. So if you had unprotected sex with someone who has chlamydia, and chlamydia now lives within you, then you have a STI. It is called a STD when that same germ begins to have an effect on you. So when you start having that smelly discharge, or burning when you urinate, that STI is now called a STD,” Dr Halsall pointed out.

In relation to how long it takes for a STI to become a STD, Dr Halsall said it varies, but can be as short as a few days or even up to months or years. In addition, he said many people may never develop any symptoms and go around passing the germs without knowing.

“That is what this new naming was meant to do — let people know that you can have gonorrhoea, chlamydia, syphilis HIV, HPV, and others without any signs or symptoms; a scary thought. I see this every week in my practice: Women coming for regular check-ups and Pap smears, only to later find out that they've been living with a STI for an unknown time. This also means that if you've been diagnosed with one, it may be very difficult to know when you contracted it,” Dr Halsall said.

He said once you're sexually active, you should get tested every six months to a year or every time you change or add partners.

“These infections are easy to diagnose and even easier to treat. So it's better to find out before it becomes an actual disease, which may have complications and long-lasting effects,” Dr Halsall said.

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